Sometimes its the little things that make you happy. For me its two little things that add up to freedom from Outlook. Why am I so happy to be shed of Outlook? Because I don’t connect to an Exchange server, I don’t use POP and IMAP support in Outlook stinks. Not to mention that, at least in its 2007 incarnation, Outlook can’t seem to run for 30 minutes without crashing or locking up.
Both of the little things I am talking about are plugins for the Mozilla mail program Thunderbird. Thunderbird has fabulous support for IMAP, is light on system resources, integrates well with XP or Vista, and works seamlessly as a front end for Gmail. While Thunderbird by itself is not a replacement for Outlook it becomes one with some help from Lighting and Birdie Sync.
Lighting provides very nice calendaring services, including a to do list, inside of Thunderbird. While I would not say it is the slickest calendar program I have ever seen, it is more than usable, works like you expect it to and does all of the basics solidly. It even lets you send invitations to event attendees that they can receive via email as iCal entries that can be added to their calendars. Unless you are using some very obscure features of Outlook you won’t be disappointed in Lighting.
To Lighting add Birdie Sync. Birdie Sync is the answer for those of us who couldn’t find a way to cut the final cord from Outlook and fly free because we couldn’t sync the calendar and contacts from Windows Mobile devices with anything but Outlook. Birdie Sync is not a free program, it costs 19.95 Euros but it works like a charm out of the box. Fields from Thunderbird/Lightning are properly mapped to the relevant fields on your Windows Mobile device calendar and address book and vice versa without any help from you.
Now if you are looking for a real bonus, you can get most of the functionality of an Exchange server with Thunderbird too. Thunderbird works perfectly with Google IMAP so Email backed up to a server is taken care of. Gmail also provides shared calendars and you can bring those into Lighting by using Provider for Google Calendar to read from and write to your Google calendars inside Lighting, and with Zindus to keep your Thunderbird contacts synced with your Google contacts. Provider for Google Calendar does have one drawback, while it allows your to cache your calendar for review offline, you cannot modify your calendar unless you are online.
All in all this software stack is quite a competent replacement for Outlook and I recommend it highly.